With Sue Nicholls currently part of another major storyline in Coronation Street, we take a look at the life and work of the actress behind Weatherfield’s Audrey Roberts.
Sue was born Susan Frances Harmer Nicholls on November 23rd 1943 in Walsall, West Midlands.
Her late father Lord Harmer Nicholls (1912-2000) was a Conservative Member of Parliament between 1950 and 1974, and later a Conservative Member of the European Parliament representing Greater Manchester South between 1979 and 1984.
Because of her father’s titled status Sue was entitled to be known as `The Honourable Susan Harmer Nicholls’. However her down to earth attitude has never seen her in public appearances use the status.
Sue attended the School of St. Mary and St Anne, re-branded as Abbots Bromley School currently, and had ambitions to become bilingual when she pondered studying languages at Oxford University. Instead she looked to performing arts and won a place at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts.
After graduating she did what most young actresses did at that time and worked in Repertory productions touring around theatres across the UK.
Doing Rep led to Sue’s first television role and a major part at that. She was hired by ATV Network in the Midlands to play waitress Marilyn in the much loved, top rating, soap opera Crossroads which was set in a Midland motorway motel.
Sue was one of the original cast hired in 1964 although she didn’t appear until a couple of episodes into the run. Crossroads was the UK’s first half-hour daily serial and while it was loathed by some critics the show reached eleven million viewers during Sue’s time in the show despite not being seen in all the ITV regions. Sue was part of the team who celebrated the saga winning Best ITV Programme 1967 at a gong show by the TV Times.
Sue has often said she’d love to work in the Midlands again and Crossroads must have felt like going back home with the show produced in Birmingham, a stones throw from her home town of Walsall. The character rose from a being a lowly Waitress to Vicar’s wife when Marilyn married the local Rev. Peter Hope in the fictional village of Kings Oak.
She survived a bomb exploding outside the motel, which demolished the reception area, she was spooked by a ghost in a chalet which threw a table lamp at her, she fell in the motel lake, helped motel owner Meg Mortimer – played by the late Noele Gordon – open a new hotel in Tunisia and was taken out on parade with some soldiers.
Part of a Crossroads storyline involved Sue singing as Marilyn the song Where will you Be? Marilyn was seen singing in a nightclub as a last minute stand-in due to the regular singer falling ill. A talent scout spotted her and signed her up with a record deal. The character was seen to play her new song, Everyday, on a turntable at the motel to much joy of the staff.
Both songs proved popular with viewers and when Where will you Be? (Everyday the B-side) was released as a single it reached No. 17 in the Top 20 Hit Parade for July 1968. Because the record was deemed a success fiction became reality and Sue was offered a record contract and decided to quit her part of Marilyn and Crossroads to forge a career as a pop star.
Sadly for Sue her second single flopped and she soon found herself singing in a strip-club in Vienna, Austria, sandwiched between strippers and the Can-Can Girls.
However having spent four years on a daily television saga bosses knew she was a popular actress and television roles were forthcoming. Small parts in Dixon of Dock Green and The Professionals lead to bigger roles. Sue also returned to theatre at this time, including a spell performing back in Birmingham at the Alexandra Theatre in the production Not Now Darling.
She returned to ATV, this time the Elstree London studios, to play a long-running role in ITV Children’s programme Pipkins as friendly neighbour Mrs Muddle. She also was a familiar face on ‘the other side’ playing Nadia Popov in the BBC’s children’s comedy, Rentaghost.
Larger primetime parts were also offered, one of the most fondly remembered of this time is Joan Greengross – a secretary in the hit BBC television series The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin. Greengross was forever trying to get her boss Reginald (Leonard Rossiter) out of sticky situations or was part of his lustful dreams.
Another memorable comedy role was Big Brenda in London Weekend Television’s sitcom Not on your Nelly, a vehicle for veteran actress Hylda Baker.
Sue’s most famous role to date would soon follow. Her first appearance in Granada‘s Coronation Street as Audrey Potter, tarty, unmarried mother to Gail, was on 16th April, 1979.
When Gail married Brian Tilsley Sue’s appearances were intermittent, appearing on-screen when required for short spells. Over those years the character of Audrey altered, she gained respectability and married local councillor and shopkeeper Alfred Roberts in 1985. Sue was then offered a long-term contract and has been a regular fixture in the Weatherfield setting ever since.
Some of Sue’s biggest storylines have seen her character of Audrey face a fire in her home brought about by serial killer son-in-law Richard Hillman, purchasing the hair salon on Coronation Street making it a successful business, dealing with several family crisis’s – most brought about by deranged grandson David Platt and a handful of male admirers since the death of her beloved ‘Alfie’ who died on on New Years Day 1999, just a few minutes into the day his life insurance expired!
In 2000 as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations for Coronation Street Sue recorded a scene with Prince Charles which was inserted into the live special episode. In 2009 she was ‘taken in’ by Lewis Archer – played by smoothy Nigel Havers – who was after her and anyone else’s’ money he could get his hands on. The rascal has just returned to Weatherfield and is once again wooing the salon stylist, will Audrey be conned again?
It was the double act with Alf Roberts, the late Bryan Mosley, which became a hugely popular part of the Coronation Street of old. Comedy scenes were plentiful. From Audrey winding up Alf with a fruity flirtation with his mayoral chauffeur to making fun of his tight-with-money ways.
Sue is married to one of her former co-stars from Coronation Street, actor Mark Eden who played the villain Alan Bradley. Alan tried to kill Rita for her money but was instead himself killed on Blackpool promenade by a tram. They met at a party in 1983 and married 10 years later.
Sue’s down-to-earth attitude has continued to make her one of the most popular actresses on Coronation Street, her dedication to performing – and to her fans – has never waivered and despite many other successes since those early black and white days at Crossroads she continues to support, and talk about, all the programmes she’s appeared in over the years. In 1996 Granada bosses allowed Sue to take a break from Corrie and reprise her role of Joan Greengross in a spin-off comedy from Reginald Perrin.
In 2005 she returned to Crossroads to promote the DVD release, plugging the show in the press and recording a special interview as a bonus feature on one of the numerous volumes released and she also revisited Pipkins, again talking about her role in a video special feature.
Awards include Sue winning Best Comedy Performance at the 2000 British Soap Awards and Best Dramatic Performance and Hero of the Year in 2003.